The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

Are we the kill-joys of the therapeutic world?

It had never occurred to me until recently to think of Solution Focused practitioners as kill-joys. After all we tend to be friendly, we tend to be sociable and generously-minded. So how come kill-joys? Well one of the things that all of us at BRIEF do in our teaching is to show recordings of our work with clients - only when those clients have given their permission of course! And when I am showing examples of work I tend to say to the group you might like to watch out for the choices that the worker is making, what he is picking up and what he is letting go, and anything else that interests you. And the first thing that many groups comment on is ‘body language’.

So why is it that people seem so fascinated by ‘body language’? I think that the clue lies in what people comment on. And what people comment on are contradictions and ‘give-aways’, ‘she says that she really wants the best for him but look at her body language when he is talking’. When people talk about body-language, they tend to assume that the truth, reality lies in people’s body-language rather than in what people say. So a capacity to ‘read’ body-language is assumed to offer the observer a royal road to what is truly going on, it is thought to give away what people are really thinking rather than merely what they are saying. And this capacity to ‘know’ the truth, the hidden truth, getting to the heart of what is going on with the client is viewed as a key part of what the psychotherapeutic professional is up to. Traditionally psychotherapy has prided itself on precisely this kind of knowing, whether it is gained through access to the client’s dreams, the client’s verbal misadventures or indeed body-language, all times when it is assumed the unconscious intrudes and makes itself accessible to carefully trained and skilled practitioners.

So why do Solution Focused practitioners have no interest in body-language? And of course the answer is simple. In Solution Focused Practice we work with what the client says, we work with their words. We are never trying to listen beyond the words, or through the words for ulterior meanings, hidden meanings, accessible only to those of us who can ‘break the code’. We never ever want to know better than the client, or even to know ‘different’, what they might really mean, because, we assume, the client means what the client says. No concept of ambivalence. We take the client’s words seriously. This explains the reluctance of SF practitioners to receive referral information. We really do prefer to hear it from the client, we prefer the client to be in charge of what we know since when we know more, and specifically when we know things that the client does not know that we know about them, then this creeps into the way that we work with the client and inevitably begins to inform the construction of our questions. As far as it possible we want each question to take account of, and to build on, precisely what the client has just said. We want to stay close to the client’s words, working and building with them. So in that sense seeing the client and potentially being influenced by what we think that we might be learning from their body-language, goes in a directly contradictory direction to the discipline of Solution Focused work. Indeed you could argue, and I do frequently say, that it may well be easier to do Solution Focused work on the telephone, a medium that forces us to concentrate on the client’s words.

Many years ago, in 2003, a client of Chris Iveson’s, a client who had had long experience of therapies and therapists, asked Chris ‘can I ask you a question?’ Chris indicates that of course she can so she asks ‘during the session do you read body language?’ Chris responds ‘no I don’t . . . if I try to read body language I can’t concentrate’. He then adds ‘I see lots of tapes where my body language is exactly what a counsellor shouldn’t be . . .’. Chris then asks the client ‘do you?’ and she responds ‘not really no’. Exactly, concentrating on what the client is saying is hard enough, but it really is more complicated than just that. Solution Focused practitioners wouldn’t want to be able to ‘read body-language’ even if we could, and even if we knew what body-language actually meant!

And in this way we rob course participants of a lot of the fun of watching sessions, that delightful sense of understanding things that are hidden to the general public, access to a secret world known only to us and our kind – real kill-joys.

Evan George
Bahceli - Kalogrea
Cyprus
July 2017